Leading Philanthropies Join Forces to Boost Economic Mobility among People Involved with the Criminal Justice System

Updates July 14, 2021

Initial $250 million committed to pursue comprehensive justice reforms that advance racial equity and inclusive post-pandemic recovery 


New York – Year after year, millions of Americans with past involvement in the criminal justice system are denied the chance for a meaningful path to economic opportunity, even decades after their original offense took place. With an initial investment of $250 million, the Justice and Mobility Fund, a philanthropic collaboration launched by Blue Meridian Partners, the Ford Foundation, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, supports leading organizations working to boost economic mobility and strengthen the life trajectories of people involved with the criminal justice system. The Fund’s work is especially urgent now, given its focus on breaking down barriers to economic opportunity for justice-involved people, and the nation’s struggle to rebuild equitably amidst an uneven economic recovery and ongoing struggles to fill jobs.

The Justice and Mobility Fund has invested $145 million to date across nine organizations, supporting the scaling of powerful solutions to create economic opportunities for the millions of people ensnared by America’s criminal justice system. Recognizing that no single solution will generate the level of change needed to address this problem, Justice and Mobility investees work across multiple touchpoints in the system – from pre-arrest diversion to re-entry job training and pathways to living-wage employment. They pursue a comprehensive set of nationwide approaches – including policy development and advocacy, direct services to individuals, and narrative change that centers the voices of individuals engaged with the system – and place-based initiatives in states with low levels of economic mobility, high incarceration rates, significant racial disparities, and strong momentum for criminal justice reform.

It’s never been more critical to work to transform the life trajectories of people impacted by overcriminalization and over-incarceration. The Justice and Mobility Fund co-sponsors are welcoming new donor partners to join them in order to vastly grow the reach and impact of the social sector leaders they support. The Fund offers philanthropists a compelling vehicle for investing collaboratively to achieve greater impact than any donor could individually.

Approximately 77 million people in America (roughly 1 in 3 U.S. adults) have criminal records, with millions more interacting with the justice system each year. Decades of disinvestment and marginalization have led to disproportionately high involvement with the justice system and reinforced intergenerational cycles of poverty within Black communities and other communities of color. These trends underscore the importance of the Justice and Mobility Fund prioritizing racial equity across its work, investing in solutions that counter systemic racism, strengthen community safety, and specifically address the needs of Black communities and other communities of color hardest hit by mass criminalization and over-incarceration.

In particular, Justice and Mobility Fund investments seek to advance an equitable recovery from the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a deep focus on both supporting training and skill-building to help justice-involved people gain living wage jobs and efforts to make it mainstream practice for employers to hire, retain, and advance individuals with criminal records.

For instance, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) – the nation’s largest reentry employment provider – is expanding to new sites and providing innovative supports, such as digital skills and financial systems training, that help participants secure living wage jobs. In 2020, the collaboration invested in CEO’s rapid pivot to implement a COVID-19 Returning Citizen Stimulus Initiative, which worked with 32 community reentry partners in 28 cities to provide immediate direct cash assistance to more than 10,000 individuals released from incarceration due to the pandemic, helping them return to their communities on solid footing.

Justice and Mobility Fund investments elevate voices of justice-involved individuals working to build a pathway to economic self-sufficiency such as Kish Roberts, who has been in and out of the system since he was 12. By taking part in CEO’s training, coaching, and transitional employment program, Roberts today is a full-time truck driver in New York and a member of CEO’s Participant Advocate Council, a group of program participants and alumni using their lived experiences to push for social justice and criminal legal reform.

Other investments support the Clean Slate Initiative, an effort to deploy technology and state advocacy campaigns to automatically expunge eligible criminal records, lifting barriers to employment, housing, and benefits for millions; the Alliance for Safety and Justice, which works in the 10 states with the largest corrections populations to advance a vision of shared safety that reduces incarceration, eliminates barriers to opportunity for people with prior records, and improves outcomes for crime victims; and the Vera Institute of Justice, which deploys data, analysis, and expertise in systems change to promote antiracist justice solutions to transform all areas of America’s justice system, including  policing, prosecution, prison conditions, re-entry, and immigration. Vera recently worked with allies to restore eligibility for federal financial aid (Pell Grants) to incarcerated students, ending a 26-year ban in 2020 and spurring the reintroduction of college programs into prisons.

Trusting social sector leaders to know which approaches will have the greatest impact, the Justice and Mobility Fund provides significant, unrestricted growth capital, paired with planning and capacity-building support to help organizations scale ambitious, innovative reforms that help justice-involved people and communities build safer, stronger, more equitable futures.

“The Justice and Mobility Fund’s support has provided Vera with the opportunity to meet this moment – to develop a focused and ambitious strategic plan, and the capital to implement it,” said Vera Board Chair Damien Dwin, chief executive officer of Lafayette Square. “Ultimately, this means Vera will be positioned to transform justice systems and improve the lives of Black, brown, and poor people across this country.”

“Mass criminalization and incarceration is one of the most critical civil rights issues of our times. For our nation to rebuild equitably and ensure no community is left behind, we must tackle the immense, unjust barriers to opportunity imposed by our present system of justice,” said Nancy Roob, CEO of Blue Meridian Partners. “We’re grateful to work with the Ford Foundation and Schusterman Family Philanthropies to provide the long-term investment that social sector leaders need to scale solutions proven to help justice-involved people climb the economic ladder and build safer, stronger communities.”

“In this moment of reckoning and recovery, investing in the economic mobility of millions of people ensnared by the justice system is a key frontier in the struggle for safe and thriving communities,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “The Justice and Mobility Fund’s unique collaboration and contribution expands crucial access to jobs, training, and opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and ensure justice-involved people can thrive. We welcome peers in philanthropy to join and scale this effort, because when individuals are stable, whole communities are stabilized.”

“If we want to achieve racial and economic justice in this country, we must address mass criminalization and its disproportionate impact on Black people and communities of color. A small interaction with the criminal justice system can make it difficult for a person – even when found innocent – to regain economic stability and can create lifelong hardship for the families impacted,” noted Stacy Schusterman, chair, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. “The Justice and Mobility Fund is an opportunity to join forces with other funders to increase our impact on a deeply entrenched issue that has been historically underfunded. We hope more partners will consider joining this important work.”

Leveraging Blue Meridian’s performance-based investing model and the Ford Foundation’s leadership in social justice grantmaking, the Justice and Mobility Fund seeks to significantly advance scalable solutions to criminal justice reform. By working together and pooling resources, funding partners achieve greater impact and increase efficiency by sharing management, costs, and risks.

Organizations receiving current Justice and Mobility Fund investments include:

  • The Center for Employment Opportunities – Providing immediate, effective, and comprehensive employment services to people recently released from incarceration in over 30 cities nationwide, and advocating for long-term, sustainable change within the criminal legal system.
  • The Vera Institute of Justice – Building and improving anti-racist justice systems that ensure fairness, promote safety, and strengthen communities.
  • The Clean Slate Initiative – Advancing policies to automatically clear eligible criminal records in states across the country, helping to eliminate barriers to education, jobs, housing, and public benefits for millions of people.
  • Alliance for Safety and Justice – Advancing state-based policies and system reforms to replace over-incarceration with safety solutions rooted in prevention and rehabilitation.
  • Jobs for the Future – Working with employers to create a demand-driven approach to hiring people with criminal records and promoting fair chance hiring for people with convictions.
  • Center for Policing Equity – Using data-driven approaches to identify and reduce the harm caused by racial disparities in law enforcement, and reimagining models of public safety to enable communities to thrive.
  • Michigan Justice Fund – A state-based initiative hosted by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan that aims to reduce incarceration and help individuals reentering their communities in a state hit hard in rural areas by the opioid crisis and that suffers high rates of intergenerational poverty in cities, including Detroit and Flint.
  • Oklahoma Justice Fund – A state-based initiative supported by the George Kaiser Family Foundation that strengthens employment pathways and advances a statewide policy agenda to reduce incarceration and increase economic mobility in Oklahoma, which has one of the highest per capita rates of incarceration in the United States.

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